Thursday, November 21, 2013

The First Jewish Author in the Americas

Forgetting the rights and wrongs of conquest, one must acknowledge that the men and women who crossed the ocean to settle the so-called "New World" were incredibly brave. Imagine leaving behind everything familiar to traverse a seemingly endless body of water and settle in a whole new land. For an untold number of these Spanish settlers, the goal of crossing to the New World was to escape the scrutiny and dangers of the Inquisition. 

Around 1582*, the first governor of the New Kingdom of Leon (in central Mexico),  Don Luis de Carabajal y Cueva, brought over his sister, Doña Francisca Nuñez de Carabajal, her husband, Don Francisco Rodriguez de Matos, and their children. Unlike the governor, Don Francisco and Doña Francisca and their family were Crypto-Jews, outwardly practising Catholicism while remaining devout to their Jewish faith.

Around 1590, Doña Francisca, her son Don Luis de Carabajal (referred to in some research as jr.), and four of her daughters were incarcerated by the Inquisition, (which followed the settlers to the Americas) on charges of Judaizing. They were tortured and forced to publicly confess the errors of their ways at a public auto-de-fe in February 1590, and then condemned to a lifetime imprisonment. While imprisoned, the Carabajals continued their secret faith. The women wrote messages of strength to each other on Spanish pear seeds. Cellmates informed the inquisitors of how the Carabajals greeted each other in a Jewish manner, prayed on Yom Kippur and maintained other Jewish traditions.

Five years later, the Carabajals were tried as relapsed apostates. They were sentenced to burn at the auto-de-fe on December 8 (17 Kislev) 1596. Don Luis de Carabajal (Jr.) was not yet 30 when he died, but he made a mark on history and has been noted as the first Jewish author in the Americas. He wrote both a memoir (in which he recorded circumcising himself) and, along with his brother Balthasar, composed hymns and dirges for the Jewish fasts. 

*Please note that the exact dates are disputed.

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